How we’re honoring people overlooked by history | Amy Padnani

Translator: Ivana Korom
Reviewer: Krystian Aparta My name is Amy Padnani, and I’m an editor on the obituaries desk
at the “New York Times.” Or, as some friends call me,
the angel of death. (Laughter) In fact, people will ask me, “Isn’t it depressing,
working on obituaries and thinking about death all the time?” But you know what I tell them? Obits aren’t about death,
they’re about life, they’re interesting, they’re relatable. Often about something you never knew. Recently, for example, we had the obit for the inventor
of the sock puppet. (Laughter) Everyone knows what a sock puppet is, but have you ever thought
about who created it, or what their life was like? Obits are a signature form of journalism. An art form, if you will. It’s an opportunity for a writer
to weave the tale of a person’s life into a beautiful narrative. Since 1851, the “New York Times”
has published thousands of obituaries. For heads of state, famous celebrities, even the person who came up
with the name on the Slinky. There’s just one problem. Only a small percentage of them chronicle the lives of women
and people of color. That’s the impetus
behind a project I created called “Overlooked,” which tells the stories
of marginalized groups of people who never got an obit. It’s a chance for the newspaper to revisit
its 168-year existence and fill in the gaps for people who were,
for whatever reason, left out. It’s a chance to right
the wrongs of the past, and to refocus society’s lens
on who is considered important. I came up with the idea
when I first joined Obituaries in 2017. The Black Lives Matter movement
was at a rolling boil, and the conversation on gender inequality
had just started bubbling up again. And at the same time, I wondered,
as a journalist and as a woman of color, what could I do to help
advance this conversation. People were coming out of the shadows to tell stories of injustices
that they had faced, and I could feel their pain. So I noticed we would get
these emails, sometimes, from readers, saying, “Hey, why don’t you have
more women and people of color in your obituaries?” And I thought, “Yeah, why don’t we?” Since I was new to the team,
I asked my colleagues, and they said, “Well, the people
who are dying today are from a generation
when women and people of color weren’t invited to the table
to make a difference. Perhaps in a generation or two, we’ll start to see more women
and people of color in our obituaries.” That answer just wasn’t satisfying at all. (Laughter) I wanted to know:
Where are all the dead women? (Laughter) So I started thinking about how we hear
about people who have died, right? Number one way
is through reader submissions. And so I thought, “Well, what if we were to look
at international newspapers or scour social media?” It was around this time when … Everything was swirling in my mind, and I came across a website
about Mary Outerbridge. She was credited with introducing
tennis to America in 1874. And I thought, wow,
one of the biggest sports in America was introduced by a woman? Does anyone even know that? And did she get a New York Times obituary? Spoiler alert — she did not. (Laughter) So then I wondered who else we missed. And it sent me on this deep dive
through the archives. There were some surprises. The pioneering journalist Ida B. Wells, who started the campaign against lynching. The brilliant poet Sylvia Plath. Ada Lovelace, a mathematician now recognized as the first
computer programmer. So I went back to my team and I said, “What if we were to tell
their stories now?” It took a while to get buy-in. There was this concern that, you know, the newspaper might look bad because it didn’t get it right
the first time. It was also a little weird
to sort of look back at the past, rather than cover news stories of our day. But I said, “Guys, I really think
this is worthwhile.” And once my team saw the value in it, they were all in. And so, with the help
of a dozen writers and editors, we launched on March 8, 2018, with the stories of 15 remarkable women. And while I knew that the work
my team was doing was powerful, I didn’t expect the response
to be equally powerful. I had hundreds of emails. They were from people who said, “Thank you for finally giving
these women a voice.” They were from readers who said, “I cried on my way to work,
reading these stories, because I felt seen for the first time.” And they were from colleagues
of mine, who said, “I never thought a woman of color would be allowed to achieve
something like this at the ‘New York Times.'” I also got about 4,000 reader submissions suggesting who else
we might have overlooked. And some of those are my favorite
stories in the project. My all-time favorite is Grandma Gatewood. (Laughter) She survived 30 years of domestic violence
at the hands of her husband. One day, he beat her so badly,
beyond recognition, he even broke a broomstick over her head, and she threw flour
in his face in response. But when the police arrived,
they arrested her, not him. The mayor saw her in jail
and took her into his own home until she could get back on her feet. Then, one day, she read this article
in “National Geographic” about how no woman had ever hiked the Appalachian Trail
in its entirety alone. And she said, “You know what?
I’m going to do it.” Reporters caught wind of the old grandma
who is hiking through the woods. And at the finish, they asked her, “How did you survive so rough a place?” But they had no idea
what she had survived before that. So, “Overlooked” has become
wildly successful. It’s becoming a TV show now, on Netflix. (Laughter) (Applause) I cannot wait to see
this thing come to life. Something like 25 different publishers
have reached out to me with interest in turning
“Overlooked” into a book. All of this clearly shows
how timely and necessary this project is. It’s also a reminder of how newspapers document what’s happening
in our world every single day, and we have to make sure
not to leave out key people. That’s why, even though it’s been
so meaningful to look back in the past, I’m plagued with the lingering question: “What about the future of obituaries — how do I diversify those?” That was my original problem, right? So to start answering this question,
I wanted to gather some information. I went down to the sub-sub-basement level
of the New York Times Building, to the archives. We call it the morgue. (Laughter) And I asked for some guidance
from our archivist there. He pointed me to a book called
“New York Times Obituaries Index.” So we handed it to the New York
Genealogical Society, and they digitized it for us. And then a programmer wrote up a program
that scanned all those headlines for “Mr.,” Mrs.,” “Lady,” “Sir,”
all the sort of gender-defining terms. And what we found
was that from 1851 to 2017, only about 15 to 20 percent
of our obits were on women. So next, I worked with a programmer
to build this tool, called the diversity analysis tool. It’s a very dry name,
but bear with me, it’s super helpful. It breaks down the percentage of our obits
month to month, women to men. OK, if that doesn’t sound
like much to you, this is how I used to calculate it before. (Laughter) So I asked this programmer
to program in a goal, and that goal was 30 percent. From the year of “Overlooked’s”
launch, March of 2018, to March of 2019, I was hoping we could get
to 30 percent of our obits on women. It was a number we hadn’t
achieved in a 168 years, and I’m happy to say we did it —
we got to 31 percent. (Applause) It’s awesome, but it’s not enough. Next we’re hoping to get to 35 percent, and then 40 percent,
until we achieve parity. And then I’m hoping to partner
with this programmer again, to build a similar tool to measure
people of color in our obits. That was something I wanted to do
with “Overlooked” too, to include men of color, and I finally got to do it
with a special section for Black History Month, where we told the stories
of about a dozen black men and women. Again, it was a really
powerful experience. Many of these people had been slaves or were a generation removed from slavery. A lot of them had to make up
stories about their past just to get ahead in life. And there were these patterns
of their struggles that came up again and again. Elizabeth Jennings, for instance, had to fight for her right to ride on segregated street cars
in New York City — a hundred years before Rosa Parks
did the exact same thing with buses. It was just a reminder
of how far we’ve come, and how much more
we still have left to do. “Overlooked” is including
other marginalized people as well. Recently, we had the obit
for the computer programmer Alan Turing. Believe it or not, this brilliant man
never got an obituary, even though his work decoding German messages
during World War II helps end the war. Instead, he died a criminal
for his sexual orientation, and he was forced to endure
chemical castration. Great things, like this obits project,
do not come easily. There were a lot of fits and starts as I worked hard to convince people
it was worth getting it off the ground. There were moments
when I faced great self-doubt. I wondered if I was crazy
or if I was all alone, and if I should just give up. When I’ve seen the reaction
to this project, I know I’m not at all alone. There’s so many people
who feel the way I do. And so yeah, not many people
think about obituaries. But when you do, you realize
they’re a testament to a human life. They’re the last chance to talk about
somebody’s contribution on the world. They were also an example
of who society deemed important. A hundred years from now, somebody could be looking into the past
to see what our time was like. I’m lucky, as a journalist, to have been able to have used
this form of storytelling to help shift a narrative. I was also able to get
an established institution to question its own status quo. Little by little, I’m hoping
I can keep doing this work, and continue refocusing society’s lens so that nobody else gets overlooked. Thank you. (Applause)

Comments 100

  • please, come back give us interesting insight about present and future, we are tired about this stupid sjw propaganda, it has any positive effect, just spread hate,polarization,racism and sexism.
    It's a shame people spent time and money on this stupid research.

  • I haven't watched the video yet but I'm going to predict that, despite what the title suggests, this will be focused only on women. Because that is what TED does now. Pander to toxic feminist and social "just-us".

  • Her hair is immaculate

  • TED…. you just keep sinking lower… even when I think it couldn't be possible.

  • Amy, I love your message and the heart you put into this talk, but it saddens me to think that we should ever need lenses to see one another.

  • I hate when people say people of colour 🤦🏾‍♂️ its BME! Or then refer to their race not people of colour 🤔

  • Thank you 🙏 Amy

  • Ada Lovelace the first computer programmer?? Well I guess if we just completely edit history we can make women feel a lot more like the special snowflakes they are.

    She died in 1852. Alan Turing who dealt with the rather primitive machines one might know from the movie Enigma, was born in 1912. The light bulb was invented in 1879 a good 27 years after her death. Not only that, but there is little evidence that she herself had contributed major knowledge to anything. Yeah she liked to philosophize on an abstract level that machines could do unimaginable things in the future (like freely compose music) but that's a long shot from being the first programmer. Some people give that title for a theoretical machine that could do calculations with Bernoulli numbers. The machine was never built, greeks have done more amazing things centuries earlier and afaik her "code" was faulty. There are many calculating machines who were actually functional built before her time.

    She was a woman of privilege, being private schooled and not having to face serious adversity. Through her marriage, she later received the title of a countess. Her name reappears quite a lot more often in contemporary stories than would be reasonable given her relative irrelevance. More than likely she had many great obituaries, once again, alone for her title as a countess.
    Yet we see this nyt "woman of color" play the victim card for herself and Ada? I bet the percentage of people who looked at her thinking "wow I really could victimize her" or "she is inferior because x" is below 0.001%. This is a circus show, meant to give the regressive elites a pat on the back, while disinforming the public with shallow prose level rewriting of history.

  • How we're honoring people overlooked by history?
    Well….you can turn the lights on,
    or television, computer, refrigerator, water heater, calender, toaster, air-conditioner….or any kind of electric appliance in your house….and you are just honoring Nikola Tesla.

  • I like this talk.

  • Technically we can expect obituary counts to deviate even further. Statistics from Scandinavia indicate that, now that we live with greater welfare and choice of occupation, women choose LESS extraordinarily demanding jobs, especially in stem.
    Unless you would like to write more obituaries about aunt Tammy, who was, well, a really nice aunt, instead of writing about some lesser known Elon Musk clone, chances are, you won't get anywhere near parity.

  • If Amy Padnani's goal was just to cover more lifestories of people in obituaries, to write about broader spectrum of people than just important and influential people, — I could get behind her project and see it as a noble effort. But with the way she approached it, focusing on gender and race first and people themselves as second, I just can't get behind it.

  • The woman gives me cringe lol

  • "As a woman of color"? Are you kidding? TED is SO over the top ….. with "correctness" of all kinds.

  • Thank you TED! For not doing more pro pedophile and gender fluid children videos!

  • I suspect that also underrepresented will be folks who did not live (or die) in the metropolitan areas of Boston, New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco.

    Similarly, I suspect that over-represented will be persons in the top 1% of wealth, including "socialites".

    Also missing from the obituary pages will be a half-million soldiers, sailors, marines and staff killed in action, on US soil and in lands far. Almost all men. Overwhelmingly poor or, later, part of the burgeoning middle class. (Recently, I've seen the New York Times publish biographies of some Americans killed in action, but I don't know if it's complete and I couldn't find an index.)

    Deciding who is Notable, who is Worthy of an obituary is subjective and will "overlook" literal millions of Americans each year.

  • Silly woman

  • Does she realize TED Talks did the same thing that she's roiling on about by putting her in the (clears throat) 'TED Salon'??

  • İf everyone educate themself they will never have fail the skin colour is issue at all and the world needs to educate themsels because noone is telling the true History and the global revolution will gone as smooth as it need from all kind of coloured people too.

  • Thats why now I am in love with books and learning is amazing, opens third eye

  • Thanks for your sharing thoughts

  • Don't we Ted talks?

  • NEWS FLASH: In a historically predominantly white country most the people who died were white. But let's forget that and make the case that everything wrong with the world is due to white men, even if, if one bothers to look it up, the most liberal countries in the world with the most lenient immigration policies are white western countries. If we look at the evidence, a strong case could be made that white people are the least racist, and white men are the least sexist. We need to finally stop judging people by their biology, and just flipping around historical racism and favoring people because they are not white men is solidifying judging people by DNA. The best solution is not to fight historical fire with contemporary fire, but to put out the fire. This video pours gasoline on it.

  • This is such an interesting project. So many great people go unrecognized during their lifetimes.

  • Nikola tesla? Time to unveil the real type of people early American industry pioneers are.

  • Please do not differentiate people by color and gender. People are people and all beautiful and equal in rights. What are you doing??

  • Golden nuggets 🏦🧠👀

  • Hahaahah!!!! These people's lives must absolutely suck that they need to concentrate on such absolutely meaningless things.

  • New project called, Overlooked, sets out to right the wrongs of the past by creating obituaries for marginalized people (women of color etc.) who didn't get a proper obituary. Continue to re-focus society's lens so nobody else gets overlooked. #TEDTalk

  • Imagine having a good point but your movement and the people you identify with completely ruining and undermining itl

  • She very clearly doesn't have much knowledge on how the scientific method works or she'd know that anyone who has contributed to any scientific field in a meaningful way is being honoured daily by having their theorems used. If you invent something useful or discover something about how the world works so accurately it becomes law, you'll be recognised. End of story. No need for an obituary. Turing doesn't need an obituary because if you don't know about him or what he's done then you clearly live under a rock (I'd give another example but I tuned out for half of it because of all the bollocks).

  • "But only a small percentage of them chronicle the lives of women and people of color"

    maybe step up your game then and quit riding the backs of Straight White Males

  • My husband would read the interesting obits from the Times to me. Often I would keep the obits that he tore out of the paper to use as reference for an article I might write, or a character in a story. Now, as a tutor at a college, I use them as examples of great writing.

  • She’s a woman “of color”? What color is that?

  • Interesting and Inspiring ☺️☺️

  • Just like you made Ada Lovelace or wherever into your fake hero/role model?

  • Pretty close to unsub

  • Hello Can you make subscraep in my channel plees

  • Really great talk! Thank you

  • Fake New York Times.

  • Race-baiting has never been as profitable as these days. This is a huge business. Find a random subject, add race to it and voila – get on TED.

  • In the UK the homelessness deaths are not recorded. Most of the homeless are white men. When you wake up to this knowledge this "Oppression Olympics" of TED talks can be clearly seen to be what it is. Pathetic.

  • She is thick!

  • People of color means non-white, why do they define themselves as not white? An i non-asian? Non-jew?

  • history has a way of overlooking itself when writing about
    what is right, and about what really happened!
    The realization that history and what history says
    may have nothing in common with what really happened.
    History is written by the winner, how would history read if it was written by the losers?
    …and I do realize that the losers could and most likely would also write what may have nothing to do with what really happened.
    How do we trust history as written?
    We can't and we should not!
    So where do we find the truth?
    How do we learn from history? When both omit and lie about it…

  • Im colorless and you are people of color.

  • I knew it would be for women and poc…. Saying things like 'as a woman of colour' makes you sexist and racist. You assume that somehow this makes you different and that you speak for all WOC which you do not. You cannot feel their pain … they are dead. 'POC weren't invited to the table to make a difference'….. Perhaps they should have made their own table and invited themselves just like the people who were sitting at the table did rather than whining. Love Lace was not a computer programmer…. This is so disingenuous to the person who was

  • What about all the white men that did cool stuff and still got "overlooked" ?????????? There are lots of very different people in this world get over these identity politics and do something more productive!

  • 👍🏻

  • Excelent point of view

  • I never thought of that before

  • The "New York Times" published in a country founded by white people has an obituary bias? Bottom of the barrel.
    By the way while men and women have similar average IQ's, men dominate both ends of the bell curve. That means they have a disproportionate number or geniuses and Darwin award recipients.
    How about you do something worth writing about rather than complaining about obituary mentions?

  • What a most excellent job you have done young lady. Your just barely in there as a young journalist (& in a department that most wouldn't realize is a much bigger deal than first though to be) an you have managed to shake
    it up so much. By seeing w/your new young bright eyes where the major in balances were in that department an then showing and questioning others about this . Followed by research for establishing the facts along w/ the follow through as what could an should be done (baby your journalism abilities are most definitely
    an asset to anyone who has you employed or working on their team. You are right an needed
    in this business) so well that it has now already been implemented. Talk about impressive. Now I have never worked there but such major changes anywhere in older established places/businesses can be a very slow (if @ all) process so very impressive you have done beautifully. An w/ such a noble an a deep necessary needed subject to draw attention of both book authors an film alike, , , , WoW .
    Really seriously what more can be said but W0W !
    Young lady you sure are beautiful w/a beautiful 💓 an serious talent to match. W/ such purpose an depth an
    possess what it is needed to be heard an acknowledged in your chosen field for which you are perfect an very much needed in . You are in the right place an at the right time. This world has needed you an I'm very glad you have arrived. I can't imagine what it must feel like to touch so many people on such a deep an growing level as you have an will continue to do for forever forth now.
    Again I say W0W.
    I really can't wait to see what else you
    are going to do to improve this world we are in.
    Forever your fan. 💋

  • Great lecture and stupid comments

  • Nice ted talk from a sexist and racist person.

  • Why Did Jesus Die?

  • Do women and non white people not have families or friends to write obituaries for them?

  • I love your way of explaining, I wouldn’t be tired if I watch the same video several times.


  • Amy is lovely

  • Me: How triggered do you want anti women to be.
    Speaker: Yes.

  • Like Narendra Uneducated Modi?!

  • Have I ever thought about who created the sock-puppet and what their life was like? Take a guess. Correct. And that's the way I roll.

  • ゴッヅタレントに出てた、オペラの振りしてロック歌ってた人かと思った

  • Great work! So inspirational! God bless you! 👏🙌🙏❤️🔥🏆

  • Which colour is this women?

  • Almost thought this was gonna be interesting, until “women and people of color” that’s pretty much when you know to tune it out

  • heard new york times paused to make this comment, clicked to watch another video.

  • When you make a big fuss over women "who accomplished something," you are simultaneously telling all women that they are lesser for choosing to be a stay-at-home mother and homemaker. And this is how you destroy a civilization. You make worldly accomplishments and accolades more important than family life. It started with men about a century ago. We'd ask young boys, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Cementing the notion that one's identity is tied up in his career. Once men had been successfully brainwashed into misplacing their worth, women were next. They were told that they needed to work, think and act like men in order to be successful and "empowered."

  • Great talk – thank you!

  • Just another WOKE person being given credit for basically nothing. Also, if you're going to only read the monitor, don't put it over the heads of everyone and the camera.

  • Because his work as we know it was forbidden at the time, Da Vinci was lost to the world for hundreds of years. He was different and had to hide amazing observations. Mere chance is the reason we know him to be a scientist today. When we stop seeing people as different altogether and begin to see ourselves as a greater whole perhaps we will deserve whatever potential awaits us.

  • White is a color…only a color of all colors.

  • Life must be pretty damn good if obituaries are on your list of how to improve the world.

  • Amy! You are freaking awesome!

  • So who really invented the game of Tennis as it was played in Bermuda? Mary Ewing Outerbridge introduced to the US, but it wasn't her invention, though it may well have been a woman's invention.

  • Nobel laureate abdus salam was forgotten in his home country because of his faith .
    Barely anyone knows him in Pakistan. Very sad 😭

  • Abdus salam made a name for Pakistan in the world's scientific community. Sadly , because of religious prejudice, he was forgotten.

  • Hello, writing a response from Los Angeles. I’ll start off by saying I haven’t done extensive research on this topic, but off the bat your argument seemed false and misleading.

    To test your statistics I looked at the LA Times obituaries today 08/20/2019 and found there was an even number representation between male and female as well as an equal number of people of color (in terms of their demographic percentage).

    I believe your speech to be misleading and backwards, and while I know there was misrepresentation for POC and women decades ago- the country has significantly grown past it. The only division left in this country is people like yourself who hold on to the misfortunes of the past and don’t focus on the progress our country has made. We have a long way to go, but in my opinion your outlook doesn’t help.

    Also, isn’t it the families responsibility to submit an obituary? Or are you saying the New York Times has a problem doing famous women/ POC obituaries? either way, it sounds like family issues or a NY times problem, not a national issue. Unfortunate that people will see this and think it’s accurate because it’s a Ted video. 👎🏻

    (just my opinion. And ultimately respect but disagree with her speech)

  • Looks like the chuds were slower to the punch this time cause the like/dislike ration doesn’t seem as fucked as usual

  • Race doesn't exist it's a social construct. Lol.

  • you had me until you started whinni g about race and colour..just vouldnt leave it and mention all people who get left…just another race baiting dont ytell its all Trumps fault right..?

  • Hey you bigot, why are you being so BINARY, HUH?! Huh?!

  • It starts with looking at other people and not thinking about them as other people, but rather just another part of yourself.
    We are all one. There is no difference between us except that which is build by human construct.

  • If you are telling stories to shift a narrative, you a are not a journalist.

  • I wish one could focus on quality over quantity. Equal quantity does not equate to equal quality.

  • TED has lost all credibility as an educational outlet

  • Why do TED keep inviting these racist and sexist people on stage? It's 2019, stop this nonsense, and take a long look in the mirror.

  • I'm so surprised with the hateful comments towards someone who is only trying to rectify past wrong doings. Please do not worry the majority of people in orbituaries are still white males and that won't change for another good 30 years. We deliberately ignored some people in the past and she gives these people a voice. Not sure why this is scaring/worrying people to a point where they need to discredit her with fake excuses. People who were ignored were mainly people of colour and women so she helps them. It would have been white males then she would have helped them.

  • I just hope we stop chaterogizing people with non white skin as people of colour as if we are emphasizing it ,and stop calling people black they are not black they were created with dark colored skin, it's a pity people are chategorized by their skin colour and not by who they are really is

  • Intersectionality is cancer.

  • We need Arabic subtitles please!

  • 🙏🏼😊💖

  • She is so amazing.

  • i want to say only that woman can´t speak normally

  • It's ironic that TED has one of the most intolerant comment sections in the education genre. Most of the people in the comments are the antithesis of what TED stands for. Sad.

  • Do you people in the comment section support pedophilia? Ted talks do. Look it up. I implore you.

  • It feels like this woman is full of BS. Who even reads the Obituaries? And how were theses people not represented? She's just another social justice warrior trying to make it seem like something it bigger then it actually is.

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